Presentation of our Lord
February 2, 2014
Luke 2: 22-40
We have a festival to celebrate this morning: The Festival of the Presentation of Jesus. This is traditionally the day when the Church stops for a minute to get off the Lectionary calendar and look at the actual calendar we live by every day. Thus Jesus is brought with his parents to the temple to be bought back from God, according to Jewish custom. The Law says that every first born creature belongs to God, and the first born son must be bought back for gold. Also 30 days after childbirth, a woman comes to make a sacrifice of purification, two turtle doves.
So let me call your attention to a few things that make these stories an important part of the Infancy Narratives. First of all, you have to remember that these infancy stories are really complete Gospels in themselves, according to Raymond Brown, one of the most prestigious New Testament scholars. They bring the unexpected good news of the presence of God’s Messiah in the world, and those for whom it should have recognized it immediately instead reject it and those who are the outsiders are invited in instead. In Luke’s story we have angels and shepherds, in Matthew’s we have men from the east. In Matthew’s Gospel the rejection comes in the form of murder and escape into Egypt. Here in Luke’s Gospel we get a gentler story with the recognition of Simeon that the coming of this baby is destined for the rise and fall of many. He tells the couple that Jesus will be opposed in his ministry, and he will be instrumental in revealing who will truly believe in God’s promise fulfilled and who will turn away from it. It wraps into a few words what Jesus’ life and ministry will going to look like.
In both Gospel stories, we see that obedience and listening for God’s action are lifted as the highest form of being righteous and faithful to God’s will. In Luke we have the arduous journey to Bethlehem and the lack of comfort for the new child, the promised King of Kings. In Matthew, we have Joseph’s willingness to take Mary as his wife, and trust that the child growing in her womb is indeed the promised Messiah. So in this story we have the couple attentive to the requirements of the law, and Simeon and Anna step out of the Hebrew Scripture to show us that Mary and Joseph are not the only ones who have been waiting and ready to accept God’s presence in the person of this baby. Thus Jesus is brought up according both to the laws of Rome, in the trek to Bethlehem and to the laws of the Temple. It’s important to realize that these Gospels were written long after the destruction of the Temple and the changes to Judaism ended the system of sacrifices. So Luke show us that Jesus and his family were obedient to the laws of the Hebrew Bible. Luke emphasizes that it was Judaism that changed after rejecting Jesus, but that Jesus and Joseph and Mary were faithful to the Jewish laws under which he was born.
This story in Luke’s Infancy Narrative is an interesting a page from Jesus’ baby book, but it does make us wonder what it has to do with us and our lives as believers. Simeon is talking about us when, 2000 years ago he declares, “my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all people, a light to enlighten the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel.” Actually Simeon is quoting the Prophet Isaiah, words written in the 8th Century BCE. You see, Jesus we a never meant to just be the Messiah for the Jews, he was always meant to be the Savior of all people. And the Jews were meant to be a separate and holy nation as a light to the world to show God’s love and mercy to all. These themes will pop up again and again in Jesus’ preaching and all the places he goes and how scandalous his ministry is to the religious authorities of the day. The message of the Law of God to the Jews was never about being good enough to be God’s people, or about being blessed because you behaved well, it was always about being compassionate and careful because you were God’s people – welcoming the stranger, sheltering and feeding the widow and the orphan. And so it was always God’s plan to reach beyond the border of birth and custom to include all who recognized the hand of at work in the world. Jesus mission was once and for all to show the world how important it was to God, and how much God loved it’s self-centered and arrogant people. God loved the world so much that God was willing to come and share our humanity and open our eyes to how special were already were, so that we could become bearers of the message of God’s love to everyone.
“and a sword shall pierce your soul also,” says the old prophet. Raymond Brown argues that this is not a prediction that will see her son on the cross, as we hear from another Gospel story, that of John. He claims that it is a prediction of something for which we can honor Mary even more, her faith. I agree. I think that as she watches the ministry of her son, she trusts more and more that this is what the Messiah was meant to be – not a political power that will raise Israel again to the glory days of King David, not a savior who will throw off or throw over the Romans, but the one who will bring in the Reign of God, a peace-maker who will be hounded and hunted, but who will bring the hopes of many to realize that God’s love is more powerful than any system that wants to woo us into exclusivity and hatred. This is where our lives of faith intersect with this story. Hearing the prophecy of old come down into our reality can wake us up to our own destiny as God’s called and invited. We ourselves have experienced the rise and fall of many, have experience the rise and fall of our own faith and trust that God is at work in us and in our world. These stories tell us that we were already in God’s heart so far back in the Biblical record, and that we are invited into the God’s life today. It is a wonder of God’s love, not of our behavior or intention, because we know that that it rises and falls so often. It is just a blessing of God’s love and mercy. So these stories make us rejoice to be included, stir us to share our own experiences of grace, and look for the face of God like Simeon and Anna, waiting expectantly, and certain that today will be the day that we see Jesus.
now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing that you may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.